Monday, September 15, 2008

Brother, can you spare a dime?

When it comes to wrestling I’m just a fan. Oh sure, I know the difference between an inside trip and a fireman’s carry – but it’s knowledge gained from watching countless matches at all levels of competition – not actual experience.

Because a few people read this blog every week, and some seem to like it, I occasionally get emails asking to support various wrestling-related causes. I’m also a denizen of several wrestling forums where I will encounter posts asking for some kind of help. (How many of us own tee shirts supporting our favorite Olympic athletes?). Clubs need mats, colleges need money to save programs or to start new ones, the Dan Gable International Wrestling Museum needs money to recover from the flood, etc. All are worthwhile causes.

I may just be a wrestling fan – but I’m a pro at asking for money. Yep, I’ve been a direct marketing consultant for almost 30 years. I’ve sold you or your friends jewelry, shoes, magazines, pizza, air conditioners, router tables, dresses, hotel rooms, etc, etc, etc – all by putting paper in your mailbox. I’ve also raised a lot of money for charities. So, this week I’m not going to talk about wrestling. Instead, I’m going to offer “Fund Raising 101”

A person gives to another person – not organizations or causes.

This is the most fundamental rule of fund raising – and the most ignored. Perhaps the most famous (and one of the most successful) of all fund raising letters is the Frank Deford “65 Roses” letter for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In that letter, Deford tells the story (legend) of how some kids came to call that awful childhood disease, “65 Roses”. He also tells you that his daughter suffers from Cystic Fibrosis and asks you to help him fight the disease.

Save Oregon Wrestling did a reasonably good job of this. Their email efforts are always personal appeals from Coach Ron Finley and do a good job of projecting a “David vs. Goliath” image. The website also makes solid use of individual wrestlers.

This rule applies to all fund raising efforts – not just direct mail. You’ll sell more candy, wash more cars and get more golf swings if you can make the event about an individual instead of the club, team, institution or sport.


A person will respond to a “face”. As you create your materials be sure that your audience can tie a face to your cause.

Make curing cancer “trivial”.

Passion, passion, passion! Your listener, reader or candy buyer has to believe at the very moment of receiving your message that those new mats for Jimmy and Susie are more important than curing cancer. Most donors make a first gift on impulse.

Al Bevilacqua is a perfect role model. His passion for Beat the Streets jumps off the page or screen at you.

Use the “motivators”. We “evil marketers” know that there are only nine prime motivators that will move a person to spend money:


The more of these you appeal to, the more successful you will be. Guilt, exclusivity, belonging and flattery work especially well in fund raising. Anger and fear can be powerful, but can also backfire.

Get the second donation.

After years of testing, the great direct mail guru, Dick Benson, found that a 2X donor is twice as likely to respond to all future efforts than is a 1X donor. That makes the second donation crucial. Here’s a pattern that works.

Get the initial donation.

Send a thank you note within a week of the first donation (do not yet ask for the second donation).

Thirty days later ask for the second donation.

Women write more checks – men write bigger checks.

This is not sexism – it’s data. Think about your particular need. If you’re asking for a one time, major donation you might consider strategies that are more appealing to men. If long term support is your goal, create a message that reaches out to women.

Tell them what you need and ask for a specific amount.

One of my most successful campaigns was for a small town youth recreation center that needed new stairs up to the gym. When I saw the construction estimate I realized that each stair was going to cost $370. I simply asked the readers to donate “a half stair, a full stair, or 2 stairs”. We still received several $25 contributions, but the overall average gift was much higher than previous appeals.

We also put a plaque in the stairwell recognizing all of the donors that gave “at least one stair”.

If you need $10,000 for new mats – tell them. If you need $1,000 per wrestler to go to Fargo – tell them. The “every little bit helps” approach is generally ineffective.

Ask more often.

Most organizations simply don’t ask for donations often enough. Why? That’s just like scoring one takedown at the beginning of a match and never taking another shot. Keep asking. Let your donors decide how frequently they’re willing to give – but they won’t give unless you ask.

Once again, I point to Save Oregon Wrestling as a positive example. If you gave to them, you know how frequently they will contact you.

I hope this helps a little. Now – go out there and raise some money.


Rollie Peterkin said...

I'd like to hear a marketers take on Ken Chertow...he attacks you on all fronts. You finally get his spam out of your Inbox, and BAM, he's in your mailbox. And you can't even surf the web without seeing "Gold Medal Wrestling Camps" everywhere. Is he really wrestling's best answer to marketing?

Jim Brown said...

Ken is a friend of and contributor to the blog. I'm on his lists and, strictly from a direct marketing standpoint, I don't find the frequency of his contact out of line. That being said, one of the newer rules of direct marketing is that you must listen to customer feedback. If Ken is really doing his job well he will drop you from all of his lists if you email him and ask him to. If you don't have his email address, email me at and I'll send it to you.